First Look at Affinity Photo – MacAffinity Photoshop Alternative

Affinity Photo

Affinity Photo LogoThe new application from Serif joins the already released Affinity Designer and as the title suggests is more of a Photoshop alternative. The two applications are supposed to work well together, so you have the vector design possibilities in Designer, which will also do some bitmap work. You can open a document which was created in Designer in Photo, obviously you’re not going to be able to do much vector work in Affinity Photo application. The image does come in separated into layers, so it is quite workable in bitmap fashion. No problem at all to bring in a document created first in Photo and then add layers of vector designing on top of it. In Finder the documents appear as Affinity documents rather than being designated one or the other of the two applications.
Affinity Photo

The Personas of Mac Affinity applications

The persona you will work in to manipulate your photographs and make your creations will be the Photo Persona. There is also a Liquefy Persona, a Develop Persona and an Export Persona. The Liquefy Persona will only work with a pixel layer or a mask which you need to choose before entering Liquefy. You can select a layer and choose rasterize to make it into a pixel layer. When you enter the Liquefy Persona you are then able to move pixels around distorting the shapes while still keeping them together. You could do something like turning the Mona Lisa smile into a proper grin. You get a mesh overlaid over the top of your bitmap to give you an idea of what effects you are giving using the tool. It is not just one tool, but a set of tools you can use to distort your images creatively.

Within the Photo Persona you get all of the tools you would expect to find in a alternative to Photoshop. Selection tools, painting tools, drawing tools and fill tools, plus the rest. In another article I will go into each of these tools in detail of how to use them. After a quick look into the brush tool I can see that there are a lot of options for creating different sorts of brushes. Lots of settings for how the brush works in terms of texture and dynamics, plenty of room for creativity there. I am also loving the Mesh Warp Tool and the Perspective Tool for moving around and manipulating shapes and designs within my photographic art.

Affinity Photo tools

Throwing the shapes in Affinity Photo

There is a Shape Tool which gives you plenty of different shapes to choose from. You have the basic rectangles, circles and ovals, triangles as well as cogs, clouds and heart shapes. The shapes are configurable once you have them placed upon your design. For example, with the stars you can choose the number of points for the star and also choose the inner radius for the star shape. It’s also useful to have shapes such as the callout rounded rectangles. This will be very good if you were creating your own comic style of design and you needed some speech bubbles.

Working in layers

Each of the objects you put into your design is assigned to a layer. You can apply effects, adjustments, style modes and blend modes to affect just the objects or make chages to the whole layer. It’s really easy to add masks to the layer and drawing on the layer with black and white to show or hide parts of that layer. There is a checkbox to the right of the objects which lets you turn on and off the view of that object. Live filters can be added to the layer or objects so you can manipulate the look of whatever you have in the design object by object. It’s pretty cool you are able to see the effect of these filters as you swap from one to another. This also works the same with the effect and blend modes which helps you make the basic choice of which to use.

Making mistakes and using the history

There is a history tab which shows you each of the changes you’ve made to your design. This makes it easy to go back to any point in time during your design work. If you’ve gone down a particular path of design changes and don’t like what you’ve done, just go to the history tab and take a few steps backwards.

Slicing and dicing in the Export Persona

There will be times when you have a large image that is going to be better sliced up if you’re going to put onto a webpage. There is the slice tool within the export persona which makes it easy to split the complete design into segments. When you are selecting the slices the next slice will snap to previous slices if you want them to. You just have to hold down the option key if you want to ignore snapping. When you are ready to export, you choose original size or two times or three times bigger. Within the export options you can choose from the presets and formats such as PNG, JPEG, GIF, TIFF, EPS and even as the SVG format.

Verdict on Affinity Photo

I have been using this application for a few months now using the beta versions. I have paid for the version 1 which was recently added to the Mac App Store. The price is very reasonable indeed. The quality of the application is of professional level. The developer team for this application are working hard to add more features and to improve it generally. The Affinity Photo application for working with bitmaps and photos is impressive to say the least. It is without a doubt my favourite application now for working with my images. In combination with Affinity Designer I have just about everything I need for my two-dimensional creativity. I use it to create my Good and Geeky book covers. I’m finding it very easy to use to make my creative photo collages and overall I really enjoy using these applications. I highly recommend the Apps from Mac Affinity, Serif.

Affinity Photo Professional image editing software for Mac

Posted in Mac Software.

Affinity Photo from MacAffinity – Great Photoshop Alternative

Affinity Photo on the Mac

Us creative people on the Mac have great choices for creating images. Today I am jumping into Affinity Photo to make something from four or five photos. In this post, I made on Google Plus I have the image as it came out of Affinity Photo and the version I got out of Topaz Impression. I also use Affinity Designer and obviously they will work well together. I created the book covers for the Good and Geeky series now available on Amazon, using Affinity Designer. I wouldn’t bother looking at Adobe Photoshop when this is available. I think there will be a shootdown between Affinity Photo and Pixelmator. There may also be an iOS version of Affinity Apps as there is for Pixelmator. I do hope so!

Affinity Photo

Posted in Mac20Q.

Mac20Q Podcast 125 – Life Logging, El Capitan, Video editing on iOS

I made a switch over to Android for my phone and my tablet for about 18 months and I did enjoy the first 12 months of it. After that I became increasingly fed up with the inability to upgrade the operating system on the phone. What was more annoying though, was the completely useless applications for editing video on Android. I am completely delighted to be all Apple again. I keep on getting amazed by the great applications to edit video on iOS. This week I have been trying out video applications from Fly Video Inc. They have a number of applications and I started with the application called Clips Video Editor . I also downloaded Fly, Tempo and Crop and I’m very impressed with all of them. They are all easy to use and have a different way of showing the video timeline. You use the application in portrait mode, with the clips you use one underneath the other. It’s very easy to trim the clip to the right length and also to add transitions. They have good sharing facilities for the videos when you have finished them.

Editing video on iOS

Fly Video Editing Application

For a start, it is good that the application forces you to use landscape mode when shooting video. When you have your clips available ready to edit you can switch from one clip to another just by touching the clip. You can also do side-by-side clips in the video as well as picture in picture. Fly Video Editor is a handy video editor for making quick little movies and have them ready for sharing.

Tempo video editing

The Tempo video editing application allows you to take a clip and change the speed of playback quickly and easily. Once you’ve done that you can save the clip to your photos library and use it in other video editing applications. All you have to do is to tap on the speed you are looking for as the video is playing at the point you want the speed change. You have two faster speeds and to slower speed to choose from and you can go back to normal speed whenever you wish.

Crop that portrait video

Shooting video in portrait should be outlawed, but so many people do it these days. They are just holding the phone that way and so they just press the button to start shooting video. I like the video applications which do not allow you to shoot in portrait mode. If you do come across a video clip that has been shot in portrait you can take this application called Crop on the Fly – Fly Labs Inc.. and make it the right shape. This is particularly necessary when you want to include these video sources alongside other video shots that have been shot in proper landscape mode.

Life logging book

Day One Journal app

I’m close to having the life-logging book finished for Good and Geeky Books. In the book I talk about using applications like Day One, Chronos, Heyday and Saga to do your journal keeping. I am particularly interested in how you can use journal keeping to improve your life. By writing about your daily life will soon know whether you are leading a boring life or not. You will soon know whether you are one of those people are making it happen, somebody who watches it happening or just one of those people who wonders what happened! In the book I suggest is a good idea to have a plan to do things you can write about in your journal. Go and take part in life events and to give some thought about how it all went down and to record it. Don’t just write about it, but also shoot video and record audio as well as taking photos.

Posted in Mac20Q.

Was the WWDC Keynote a bit Ho Hum?

There is no such thing as finished software

The Worldwide Developers Conference in America for the Apple developers recently happened and they told us about the new operating system for OS X and for iOS. We’d better not forget there is also the new operating system for the Apple Watch coming. Usually with the update to the operating system in the past I have been quite excited to hear what is coming. There have often been marvellous features annnounced with the promise of making my life easier in one way or another. This time with El Capitan it was all a little bit underwhelming. I didn’t get to see the keynote live, but there wasn’t much that’s really jumped out and bit me on the bottom with regards to what’s coming up new. In OSX there is the new windowing system which will allow you to put windows to one side of the screen or the other. I can do that already with software I already use on the operating system. The other thing that was featured was the enlargement of the cursor or mouse pointer when you twiddle your finger around on the trackpad. When you have a large screen and a high definition setting it is handy to be able to find where the cursor has gone to. Once again I was already able to do this with some third-party free software. Even so, it will be great for the middle aged and sight challenged of the tech world.

El Cap

Natural Language Searching

For a few years now it is been quite handy to use natural language within the application Fantastical. That sort of word usage for searching is becoming available within Spotlight. There are many people wondering why it is not coming with Siri for the Mac at the same time. You can fill the text in using the built-in voice to text, but it is not quite the same as having the Siri artificial intelligence assistant. So unless you have DragonDictate installed you won’t be able to use your voice to open applications. It seems to be going in the right direction though and there is the possibility that Siri will at some point in time arrive on your Mac.

The split screen on iOS to use on the iPad

I do have the latest version of the iPad which has a powerful processor and is able to take advantage of this split screen windowing. I am not quite sure about how useful this is going to be if I need to have two things on the screen at one time or not. What I have done up until now is to use a second iOS device, my iPhone, if I needed to have something else in front of me at the same time. One of the features of the iOS Split screen is to see video at the same time as you’re working on something else. He’s also going to possible to do a picture in picture so you can have the video playing out of the way while you are working on something else. So goodbye productivity!

 Apple Watch iOS 2

Apple are making it so that you can have more than 12 friends in the section where you are able to make contact with messages and the phone app. I don’t have many friends so I was okay with having just 12 anyway. Seriously though, that will be a useful addition to the Apple Watch.

Apple Watches 2The big thing about the watch is the addition of a development kit for the software developers to make native third-party applications for the Apple Watch. Having non-native access to applications which will only work by connecting to the iPhone, for the most part doesn’t work very well. There are one or two applications that work fast enough, but most of them struggle to bring the information to the user of the watch. Many times when using one of these applications I just run out of patience and close the application to do something else instead. This has been because the application hasn’t give me the information before the screen goes blank in order to save battery usage on the watch.

The big music announcement

Although I have in the past been a big fan of listening to new music, these days I have to admit to being not so bothered. I prefer to listen to stories from books using the Kindle app or to various podcasts. This sort of listening is often more entertaining for me than music. Mind you, that doesn’t include many of the Mac news based podcast which all say the same thing and are starting to get very boring.

Getting Proactive with Siri

I did have some experience using Google Now and it looks like Apple are coming up with something similar. It is going to be called Proactive. The way it will work is that Siri will take note of the things you do and when you do them and offer you suggestions within your home screen. So it might put a contact name into your home screen if you regularly call a certain person at certain times. This seems like a good idea to make using iOS much more useful and easier and I’m looking forward to seeing what it can do. We won’t really know how useful Proactive with Siri is going to be until we actually get using it.

The new News application for iOS

This application is starting to look interesting as it is making it easier for publishers to get the digital media into publication. I have already signed up and had my application accepted for an account, even though it is not going to be usable mainstream until the autumn. The ease comes from being able to add RSS feeds. So anything I publish on my blog sites can go directly into the News application this seems to be easier than using Flipboard. With Flipboard you have to do is one post at a time which is a little bit tedious.

Apple News

Coming soon is the Apple News format and I’m not sure that’s going to be a new application or ability to export out of either iBooks Author or more likely Pages. The good thing about it is that you are able to get a magazine type feel to your articles, making it easier to read for your readers. Apple will be selling advertising and publishers will get 70% of the income from those adverts. You can also sell your own advertising and you get the full amount. How good this is going to be will depend upon whether users will use the News application or if they will hide it as they do with the present Newsstand application.

Public transport in maps

This won’t make any difference to me because Barcelona is not included in the list of cities included for this addition. If I make a visit to London or to one of 300 places in China then I will be golden.

Improvements to the Notes app

It seems as though Apple are trying to keep up with Evernote and Microsoft One Note and finally improving the Notes application. I don’t think it will do as much as those other two applications still. Even so, it is welcome to have improvements to the application that it might just give it the edge into making it an application I would use. I do prefer to have a pure text app for simple note taking, Notes will have a layer of formatting as default. For collecting notes out of web pages, which is how I use Evernote then Notes could fill that niche.

Trackpad Keyboard

I’m looking forward to seeing the new text selection and movement of the cursor facilities within iOS. You have to just put two fingers onto the keyboard and it turns the keyboard into a trackpad. It looks like it is going to be easier to move the cursor around the screen which will be good. Somehow or other you are also able to use the two fingers to select text. I find that the magnifying glass we have at the moment for positioning the cursor is not always working properly for me. It was one of the things that I moved back to Apple for, because it was better than the way of doing it in Android.

So how interesting and exciting is El Capitan?

As geeks, nerds and lovers of technology we are always delighted when our favourite fruit company gives us new stuff in the form of hardware or software. Whether it is something completely new that adds to our lives that we didn’t know we needed, or some sort of automation that brings together what we have already, this is what we love. At first glance at the information coming from WW DC this year is all seems a bit, ho-hum. Splitting windows and arranging them on OS X is not particularly exciting as neither is the growing closer to help you find it if your eyesight is bad. The splitting of the screen within iOS will be useful for some people with the larger iPads and will benefit quite a few people.

The new thing that is possibly the most interesting is the Proactive feature which will be the rival to Google Now. This could have been highlighted and talked about more within the keynote although it is probably the most difficult to explain and to demonstrate. With Proactive the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

In the Safari application you have the pinning of webpages to top of the screen. It’s not much different from having bookmarks and is a minor change that will not produce earth-shattering changes in ways of working when browsing. The other addition to Safari was the ability to shut down audio in a tab which has suddenly started up and is annoying. Now it is just going to be easier to get rid of the noise a little quicker and easier.

Posted in Mac Software.

The Apple way of doing things – Apple Watch

There is something to be said for using just one company to provide all your technological needs. I have chosen Apple mainly because I like the feeling of quality and ease of use. It is extremely useful to have a system that just all works together. It’s easy when you don’t have to massage and manipulate various systems to work together. For a year and a half I tried to integrate using Android and some Google products alongside MyMac. It’s kind of worked, but it did feel that I was having to mess about and fiddle with things more than I wanted to. I didn’t feel like I was getting the optimum experience from my technology. It did make things a little bit more interesting, in that it gave me stuff to play with and to work out. The trouble is, is that over time it didn’t get any better and due to Android upgrade problems, it actually got little bit worse. So I was delighted, to turn my back on the dark side and stick to just using Apple products. I gave away my Android phone and tablet and bought the iPhone 6 and an iPad Air 2. I have been deliriously happy ever since. I’m even more delighted now I have been able to add the Apple Watch into the mix.

Heyday scrolled

The first couple of weeks with the Apple Watch

Right from the first day, the Apple Watch has been a joy to use. This is despite the fact that it hasn’t been perfect. I have had a couple of applications that have crashed and the occasion where the iPhone and the watch wouldn’t talk to each other. Despite these little hiccups, it’s been great to pass off some of the things I would do with the iPhone over to the watch. I like the health and fitness features provided and it has made a game of keeping my body in good shape. When the watch tells me that I should stand up for a little while I’m grateful. This is because when I get that tap on the wrist I usually think, “Goodness me! Didn’t that hour go very quickly indeed.” The goals set with the Apple Watch are good. It looks at the number of calories to burn, 30 minutes of exercise per day and to have one minute of standing per hour for 12 hours. It feels good complete the circles in the application on the watch. It feels good to see the consecutive days of the goals completed in the activity application on the iPhone. It feels good to get the little achievement badges such as the cute badge you get for having a perfect week of achieving the stand goal. These achievement badges also arrive into the Activity Application on the iPhone from the Workout Application on the watch. So for instance, you get recognition for doing your first walking workout or your first running workout.

Journaling and life logging using the Apple Watch

DayOne Scrolled

I have a terrible memory, but I would still like to be able to remember my life events. So I like to keep a journal. There are lots of different reasons why you would keep a journal. I will go into that in detail in the Good and Geeky Life Logging Book. It’s a good idea to have a system in place to remind you to post to the journal. When I’m using Day One I have it set to give me a reminder once per day on my Mac. I could give myself similar reminders using the iOS devices I use. Making it quick and easy to add small posts to a journal does help an awful lot. I am pleased with the Day One Apple Watch integration. I can easily make short posts directly from the watch. You can set up six standard short phrases, just tap and insert into your Day One journal. Add recent photos taken with the iPhone into Journal posts and you can also dictate short pieces of text.

Using the Day One Apple Watch application.

When you open the application on the watch it opens up quick, no waiting for it to populate the screen. In the top left part of the application you see an icon to add a location post into Day One. The top right is a microphone symbol you tap on to start recording a dictation. You can easily record six or seven seconds of dictation before the screen will go black. This gives you time for a couple of sentences. If the screen goes black, you will lose the words you have just dictated. When you click on done in the top right-hand corner of the screen, you get to the next screen. From here you can read the dictation and click on done if you only want a short Day One journal post. You can also use the microphone symbol more times and add extra text to the journal post. Whenever you have finished, you click on done and your post will also record your location into the application. It also records the weather conditions at your location. You can if you wish, add tags and you can favourite the post using the button you see by scrolling further down the application. You then see a blue dot on the screen telling you that your post has been created, before it takes you back to the input screen.

Default entries in the Apple Watch Day One application allow you to say whether you are working, watching television, eating something, exercising or reading. It is also will show you recent entries, but they do take a while to come in from the iPhone. If you go to the settings for the application you get the option to add a recent photo, if you have taken one in the last hour. You start this sort of post off by tapping on the icon on the watch that looks like a camera. The controls are quite simple and you can do fairly long posts if you want. It can be a little bit uncomfortable to hold your wrist in the right position for a long time to complete these posts. The best way to use Day One on the Apple Watch is to write the short posts. You are best to be keeping it short on the watch and use such posts as a prompt for when you get into the full application on the Mac or in iOS.

Using Heyday on the Apple watch for journalling

This is another journalling application that can be quite handy to use. When you open the application the first choice on the list is to make a quick note by dictation. You press the button and start talking and Siri will do the business. Click on done when you have finished and your life log will be recorded into the application. The next option on the list to look at is Today. Tap on that to see the entries you made for the day. You can scroll down to see previous entries within the application. There are a couple of tools that are worth using within this application. I feel that Heyday will benefit from some improving. For journalling, Day One is my go to application on the watch, just as it is on my Mac and my iOS devices. I’ll be looking forward to seeing how this application develops over time. Top Tip – Hold down the digital crown to make Siri keep listening for longer.

Controlling audio with the Apple Watch

Overcast on Apple Watch

Controlling audio from Overcast Podcast app and from Kindle books with narration, is one of my biggest uses of the Apple Watch so far. There is a Now Playing glance I can use to pause, alter the volume and to do a thirty second fast forward or fast rewind. Saves me lots of time for not getting the phone out and it saves the battery on the phone too. The Overcast app was updated once and possible twice since the advent of the Apple Watch specifically to make improvements to the Apple Watch user interface for the app. There is also the Overcast glance with three icons, the first on the left shows what is playing now and you can set the next two podcasts in a playlist. There is also the play, pause and 30 second jumps available. With the Now Playing Glance there is a better volume control, you can change how loud it is playing with the digital crown.

Playing Now Apple Watch

Posted in Apple Watch.

David’s Mom and the Apple Watch Unboxing

It’s great to have a mom that can help you out

I had resigned myself at the beginning of this week that my order for the Apple watch was going to take some time to arrive. I have been given a date of 4 to 6 weeks with it arriving somewhere between 12th of May and 26th of May. I would then have to wait for a couple weeks until my mother came to visit on 3rd of June before I would get my hands on the watch.

Imagine my surprise yesterday when I got an email from Apple to say that I would be getting my Apple watch delivered on day one, April 24th. This was an even bigger surprise because the day before they had tried to do a payment for the watch off my credit card and they said it didn’t go through. That wasn’t actually the case though. It was just that they put a flag on the order because I’m ordering from Spain to have it sent to an English address. They have done this to stop people ordering from countries not in their first wave of places that will be able to get the Apple Watch. I’m sure that I’m not the only person to have found this workaround. I have in the past bought Apple products from the UK site, such as when I wanted a new MacBook and the only way to get one from the refurbished store with an English keyboard was to buy from the UK store.

So yesterday I was incredibly delighted to see that my order had gone through and was in progress. I have checked with the tracking system with UK Mail this morning and it is out for delivery. I have even been able to set up on the site where they will send me a text and an email to let me know when the driver is heading my delivery address to next. I set that up with my moms phone number for the text message and my email address.

It is going to be murder having to wait for a week until I’m in England to go to my nephew’s wedding, before I’m able to put the watch on my wrist. I’m looking forward to trying out all of the various applications that have been updated to work with the Apple Watch. I can see me getting use out of OmniFocus, Clear, Day One, Twitterrific and probably some others too. I’m interested to find out how it’s going to work with the health applications as I have been using a Fitbit for the last week or so. This is the Fitbit belonging to my wife who was having trouble in getting it charged up. It’s been working great since I’ve been using it and I almost wonder if I should get one for myself, just so that I have the buzzing on the wrist alarms to get me up in the morning. I won’t be able to use my Apple Watch to perform this task as it is going to be on a stand being charged during the night time. Maybe this is a reason for us to have two Apple Watches. You could have one your wrist at all times even when the other one is charging.

My mom is an Apple fan also. She has a MacBook, and iPad and iPhone and she has shown interest in the Apple watch. She has seen the videos on the Apple site and it wouldn’t surprise me if she was going to save up for one. I might have to tell her that it will be okay for her to open the box and have a look at mine. The only thing is, is that she might be tempted to wear it for a week and then not give it back to me. Serves me right huh?

Posted in Mac20Q.

Best Adobe Illustrator alternative for Mac – Affinity Designer

I moved to the Mac from Windows about eight or nine years ago now. Due to my background in art and design and having a business as a signwriter, I wanted to have a good application for vector art. I was an expert user of Corel Draw having used it on a daily basis for 12 years and I’d never been tempted to try using Adobe Illustrator. I was disappointed there wasn’t a Mac version of Corel Draw and their only suggestion was to use the Windows version in a virtual machine. After leaving Windows, I had no desire to mess about with having Windows on my Mac. I did try out a number of vector graphics applications for Mac. There was Vector Designer, Inkscape and recently I tried out Candy Apple. Candy Apple, I thought was pretty good but none of the them came anywhere close to what I was looking for. Adobe Illustrator was expensive and not as easy to use as Corel Draw. It was something I could have got used to, but there were a couple of things that I did often in a vector art application that were very awkward to do in Illustrator. You do have some drawing applications which give you a certain amount of vector artwork drawing facilities and one example would be Pixelmator. I like Pixelmator as a bitmap art application, but for the sort of work I would do I would prefer to start from the vector side of things. So with this history of my search for a good vector design application for the Mac, it is understandable why I am delighted with Affinity Designer.

Getting started with Affinity Designer

Affinity Designer interface

As soon as you open up the application of Affinity Designer you can see there is a standard layout of the application tools and palettes. On the left hand side you have the icons to get to the tools you are going to use to create your artwork. On the right hand side you have the palettes which give you the control of those tools. The control palettes can be made to float on your screen for those times you need to have them closer to your working area of your design. If you have a large retina type screen it can be very handy to use the floating palettes. At the top of the screen there are icons giving you access to a few handy operations you might want to quickly apply to objects within your drawing. Facilities such as moving objects up or down in the order of depth within your drawing. With just one click you can send an object to the back of everything else or just move it so it is one step lower, as in behind something else. You have other transformations such as flipping objects either vertically or horizontally. There is easy access to the Boolean operations for combining, subtracting and otherwise splitting up multiple objects. You use those when you have two or more objects over lapping each other.

Affinity Designer new doc

Starting a new document in Affinity Designer

First thing to do is to set up your new document and the usual (Cmd N) will bring up the dialogue box. You have a few choices depending upon where the final design is planned for. The default is for a photo type of image, but you can also choose from print, web image or devices. If you choose devices you can make an image that is going to be destined for an iPad or you could even have something for Android device such as the Nexus 7 or a Galaxy. If you are planning to continue the work on an iPad then it could be handy to have your design specifically sized up for that device. The people from affinity designer have already teased us with a promise that there will be a version of Affinity Designer for the iPad at some point in time. I will be the first in the queue to buy it,

When you are setting up your new document, you can also choose whether you want it in portrait or landscape. Choose between transparent or a solid background. You might want to include some margins if you are doing a design meant for print. Choose paper sizes such as letter or the European standards of A3 or A4.

Personas in AffinityMac

Once you have made your choices you can get into the actual creative use of the application. First thing to note is that you have Personas. There is the Draw Persona and a Pixel Persona you will be using for creation of your design. The other persona is for export of the design when you’ve finished it. The tools you have available in the toolbar on the left-hand side are context sensitive to the persona you’re using. Straightaway you will notice that you have in the Pixel Persona bitmap drawing and painting tools. This is rather good as using these tools can help you to put texture and depth into your vector design. Despite having the great tools you have within vector drawing applications, often vector designs will look to clean and too flat. Using a combination of vector drawing and bitmap painting you will get more interesting final design. Affinity Designer lets you do that.

Vector drawing tools in Affinity Designer

The first three tools in the list on the left hand side you can’t do much with unless you’ve drawn something already. The first is the Move Tool which you can access quickly by pressing the letter (V). Apart from moving objects around screen you use this tool to also rotate and to alter the dimensions by using the nine nodes/handles around the object.Use the nodes at the sides so you can make an object narrower or wider. The corner nodes allow you to change the shape in whatever direction. On one of the sides you will see an extra node is sticking out and to use this one for rotation. There is a trick where you can hold down the control key and use any of the nodes for rotation. Instead of rotating around the centre of the object, it rotates around the node opposite from the one you have selected. The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to constrain the rotation in 15 degree increments, as you can when holding the shift key when using the special rotation node. Also the object changes size and distorts as you move the node. Not good if you need the object to stay the same size and shape when you rotate it. The developers of the application have promised that at some point in time it will be possible to take the centre point for rotation and move it to wherever you would like it to be, either inside or outside the object. Ideally, it would be good to have a rotation dialogue window to set up rotation to specific parameters. You can make some changes in the Transform palette, but it still needs more options.

The next tool is the Node Tool. The quick access for the tool is the letter (A). You can use this tool with objects that are proper shapes. It does not work with an object that is still a rectangle or a circle or one of the other objects from a shape tool. You first have to convert it to curves, in order to use the Node Tool. There is a button available in the top toolbar when you have a shape selected so you can easily convert it to a curve. When you have one of these objects selected move the cursor over a line and you’ll see the cursor change to a wavy line. Click and drag on the line of the object and it will change the shape of the line. Bend it like Beckham. Or you can select a node and move it and you’ll also see bezier curve controllers from the nodes of the shape. Clicking and dragging on these nodes will also change the shape of the lines in between the nodes. In the top toolbar you will see icons specific to the node tool. So you can do things like joining a line in order to create a closed shape or the other way round you can open a shape and turn it into a line.


Cursor and Affinity Designer Bezier curve

These first two tools are the basic shape manipulation tools you will be using a lot when you are creating your vector designs. Have a look at the bottom of the screen and you will see there are notes to help you work out what you can do. These notes tell you what you are able to do with clicking and dragging and using the modifier keys. So for instance you might want to select a number of nodes and you can do this with a marquee select. A marquee select is when you click and drag a rectangle putting the nodes you want to select inside that rectangle. Then you can affect all you have selected.

New in Version 1.2 – The Corners Tool

This newly added tool is excellent. So you have selected an object you have drawn, or it could be a rectangle or whatever other converted to curves shape. Press the (C) on your keyboard to get to the tool quickly and you can shape the corners in five different ways. If you start with a right angle corner click on the node for the corner and drag inwards towards the centre of the object. This will give you a rounded corner. Have a look at the toolbar above and you’ll see that you can change the type of corner. The first icon will take you back to the right angled shape you started with. The second will give you back your rounded corner. The third will give a flat cut to the corner, the next one gives you a concave cut into the corner. The last of these icons will give you a cut into the corner with straight edges as if you had taken a squared chunk from the corner. When you have finished editing your corners you can Bake Corners. You might do this if you have other corner editing you want to do with the shape you created from the first round of corner editing.

Affinity Corners Tool

Creating shapes in Affinity Designer

The first of the shape creation tools is the Pen Tool ℗. With this you can create either lines or closed shapes. Click once on your page to set the start point, click once somewhere else on your page and a straight line will be created in between those two points. If you want to have a curved line you can click and drag after the the first click. As you click and drag you will see the shape of the line change depending upon how far you drag the cursor. Let go when you have the curve you require. You will see you are also creating the bezier control handles for that node at the same time. When you move the cursor back to the starting node you will see the cursor change to have a small circle beside it. When you click on this, it will close the shape. This is good because if you are creating designs to sell through sites such as Fotolia you do have to close shapes properly.

The Pen Tool is an excellent choice if you want to create irregular and or complex shapes. It is the tool to use if you have a bitmap image on the screen and you want to trace an object to have total control as you draw the line. After you have created your shape or your line you can then go on to change the attributes of it. You can set the line stroke and colour as well as the fill, if you are working with a closed shape. You can also add a brush to the line to give it a textured edge.


In the next Mac 20 Questions we will move on to more of the tools available to us in the Draw Persona in Affinity Designer.

Posted in Mac20Q.

Get Started with Email Encryption Mac and iOS

It is no good just setting up your email encryption on your Mac, although that’s a good start. You have to also make sure that your iOS devices are similarly protected. There are bound to be occasions when you’ve got an email that is coming to your mail inbox on your iPhone or your iPad encrypted. Therefore, it only makes sense to make sure you have at least one application set up so you can decrypt the message. Otherwise you will have to wait until you get back home or get to a place where you can use your new MacBook. I have tried a couple of applications on iOS and they both work fine. These are applications that will let you hook into your Pretty Good Privacy key pairs you have already set up on your Mac. With iPGMail you can also create your PGP key pair if you want to. With iPGMail, same as with oPenGPG Lite you can import keys you have created using GPG Tools Keychain application on your Mac. It’s recommended you use the iTunes file sharing to move the file you create, a .ASC file if you have included a secret key/private key. This is the route to take for moving the files if you want to have maximum security. You do have to be as careful as possible to protect the secret key, so your email privacy is not compromised. If somebody wants to get their hands on your private key, all you can do is to use the revocation certificate. You created that usually at the time when you made the key. The revocation certificate is also important and you will have installed that on a thumb drive off some sort and perhaps put it into a safe.

GPG Tools icon

The basics of Pretty Good Privacy encryption

If you want to send an encrypted email to a friend you have to encrypt the message using HIS public key.

If you want to receive encrypted email from your friend he will have to encrypt using YOUR public key.

It really is as simple as that! You only have to remember that PGP keys have come in pairs. You have a public key which you can publish wherever you like and give to whomever you wish. You have a private or secret key and you don’t let anybody have it or see it. If you wish to decrypt an encrypted message it has to be done with the secret key corresponding to the public key used to encrypt it.

Who did the email come from?

The other side of privacy and security is to make sure when you receive an email you are certain who sent it. For this we have the process where you can sign your emails with your secret key. This does not encrypt the message, all it does is to tell the recipient who sent the message. You can send an unencrypted message that has been signed. When you set up your email app plug-in with Apple mail the default is to sign all messages. This alerts recipients that you are using PGP encryption so they can obtain your public key and reply with an encrypted message. When both parties are using PGP encryption within the email app the plug-in makes it work automatically. It knows that your communications with that person should be encrypted and signed. When an email comes in from your friend using encryption it is decrypted automatically. Unless you have changed the default so you need to click on the decrypt button first. You might want to do it that way if you’re working in an office and there is a chance someone could be reading over your shoulder.

GPGMail and Inbox 3 messages 1 unread

Creating a Web of Trust

When I trust a key belonging to my friend is uncompromised and most definitely his key, I can sign that key. This means if a message comes in and it looks like it’s from my friend, but not using that key, I might want to do some checking to see if the message is trustworthy. If you are working with a group of people you could all sign each other’s keys. The more signatures a key has then the more likely it is to be trusted. If somebody outside of the group was to create a spoof key, that it would not have the signatures you would normally see from members of your group. Even if the message looked like it came from within the group, it wouldn’t take you long to work out the message and the sender of the message probably shouldn’t be trusted.

Book Cover Geeky Encryption  350

With all the various scenarios possible, miscreants could use to do something naughty with email it could get complicated. For most of us ordinary users we don’t need to worry about it too much. We don’t need to think much more than the basics of using public and private keys. It’s only going to be where there is information or data of higher value, you will have people trying to get around security measures you’ve taken. So don’t worry too much about the higher end security features of Pretty Good Privacy. For a start off they are taken care of with the web of trust created by key signing. Secondly, it is only going to be in edge case situations where it’ll have any relevance for you.

I have a book available on the Amazon bookstore called – Good and Geeky Email Privacy and Security. In the book there are step-by-step guides to help you set up your Pretty Good Privacy email encryption. You can also use PGP to encrypt files and folders on your computer whether you are sending them as a message or not. I also use certificates you can get from StartSSL for S/Mime encryption. I can interact with those friends who prefer to use that instead. I think it is a good idea to have both encryption possibilities on your computers.

Posted in Mac20Q.

Scrivener The best Software for Writers

Getting started with Scrivener

On Mac 20 questions the website many times I have talked about how I love to use Scrivener. In the Mac 20 Questions podcast I interviewed the main developer of the application Keith Blount. I’ve written many thousands of words within the application for my blogs and I have a lot of words in Scrivener projects for books. What is completely baffling to me at the moment, is how come I haven’t done some sort of tutorial about Scrivener. How come I haven’t created a really long post going into details about the application, commenting on all of the excellent features for writers. Scrivener is quite easy to use, in-as-much as it’s so intuitive. On account of the application being so competent with many excellent features, it does need some explaining for all of the things you can do with it. Let’s start with a comparison with MS Word and an overview of Scrivener and then get into some details.

Scrivener Scrivener versus Microsoft Word

Scrivener versus Microsoft Word

The Microsoft Word application is a huge monster of a word processor and has been developed and designed for use within offices and business. Word has its good points, but it is also true to say that it has become bloated over the years. You can write novels within the application and many people do. It isn’t the best tool for the job though. All of the marvellous things you can do with it to create great looking documents are not really helpful for the specific task of writing a novel or even for a non-fiction work of book length.

One of the things about using Microsoft Word is that when people are using it, they are tempted to mess about with the formatting and the look of the document. Rather than actually getting the writing completed. Writers will mess about with the font size, headings and anything to do with how the document is going to look when it is finally set to whatever output. When you’re using Scrivener you just set the look of the document as you are writing so that it is easy to read. Forget about how the document will be when it is finally finished until it is time to compile. There is even a distraction free mode which clears everything else away from the screen apart from the window you’re writing in. The controls for that mode slide away from the screen to be hidden, so you can concentrate just on your writing.

Scrivener Distraction Free Mode

There is a movement to use distraction free writing applications and to use markdown syntax for writing. I think this is a very good idea and I like to use applications such as Byword. These applications give you limited scope for twiddling and fiddling and make you concentrate on getting the words out of your head and onto the page. This is a great way to go and could be a step along the way towards your larger document, especially if you are doing part of the work on your iPad. You could write 1000 words in Byword on your iPad and using iCloud those words will be transferred so that they are immediately available when you open up Byword on your Mac. For those longer documents which could be a very long blog post, a short story, a novella or a complete novel, this is where you need to start using Scrivener. Scrivener is your funnel into which you put all of your various bits of writing and you organise it so that it makes sense. It really depends upon what sort of writer you are and what sort of workflow you like to use. You can write directly into Scrivener and you can use it as a one-stop shop for your writing.

Scrivener was designed specifically for the writer and author. The reason for it being created and developed was that the developer was looking for a tool, an application that would scratch his own itch. Many of the best applications available have started like this. Scrivener was designed by an author to be used by authors. So what does it have, that makes it so good?


The way I use Scrivener

Dictate Status Window and Name Generator

I am a user of DragonDictate, this is the speech to text software that turns my words into text on the page. I use this application because I can write so much quicker and I don’t have too touch the keyboard. After two or three years of using the application I have found that it works better if I dictate into a DragonDictate window. There are some applications I can dictate into and it works quite well and then others it’s okay to start with and after a while it becomes less accurate. So this is why I do my writing in a different application from Scrivener and then copy and paste it after the first dictated draft. Occasionally I will dictate directly into Scrivener for shorter pieces of writing. I can usually get away with it for three or four paragraphs.

If I have written something that is may be a couple of thousand words long I can put it into one text section in Scrivener and split it up afterwards. I can split it up using keyboard shortcuts or by choosing menu items, I usually prefer to place my cursor where I want to make the split do the equivalent of a right click on the Magic Trackpad and choose the context sensitive command of Split at Selection. Sometimes if I have headings within the text I will select the heading and use the command of Split with Selection As Title. At this stage I can do any rearranging of the order of the sections of text in the outliner.

I tend to do most of my outlining in the binder and I have added the icons in the menubar to make it easy to move part of the document up or down in the order. I also have the icons in there so I can make one or more sections I have selected to be child documents of another. An example of that would be where you have the scenes being child documents of a chapter.


Outlining in Outliner View

Scrivener Draft

I sometimes use the keyboard

When I am doing the editing of the text in Scrivener I usually do that mostly using the keyboard. Mostly this is to make changes of the grammar with the addition of punctuation etc. I might be adding some words or maybe a whole sentence here or there. I also use the application Hemingway to analyse the text for readability. I will cut and copy out and paste back in when finished that stage of the editing. I work on one section of the text at a time and when I have finished that part of the editing are usually change the icon in the binder so I know which ones I have edited. I can also do that in the information part of a window on the right-hand side as there is a section in there for specifying the status. So I could change the status from being first draft to edited.

Project Targets Scrivener

Writing to a target number of words

Project Targets Scrivener and Scrivener Scrivener versus Microsoft Word

A tool I like to use is the project target tool. I can decide how many words I would like to have in a project and within those settings I can set a date for when the project is to be finished. I can set which days I expect to work on the project which is usually going to be Monday to Friday. Scrivener will then show me in a pop-up dialogue box the word count for the whole project and the target for the day. The target for the day is variable depending upon how many words have been written to the point you have got to so far. An example of this would be for the NaNoWriMo so you would set your project target to 50,000 words. If you expect to write for each day of the 30 days of November your daily word count will be 1666. If on the first day you write 3000 words when you look at the target for the next day it will be something less than 1666. Same thing if you have a day off, the next day your daily word count will be higher.

Being organised and using the synopsis

The synopsis for a section of text which you can see in the corkboard view on the cards, in the outline view and also in the information area is a useful tool when you are being organised. Being organised and planning your work is one way to be more productive and effective with your writing. If you are a professional writer I think it is probably inevitable that you will do some outlining even if you do like to write by the seat of your pants. With the zombie novel I am writing at the moment I started that off by writing the first couple of chapters just by free writing. I had the ideas in my head and they needed to be captured and turned into text as quickly as possible. So I just let the words flow to be the starting point for the project. I could possibly move onto the next chapters not knowing what’s going to happen and the story could have a life of its own. The trouble with this sort of writing is that you could end up wasting a lot of time by writing yourself into a dead-end. My plan is to plot the rest of the story out and start by writing a synopsis of the end of the book. There could be the last chapter or it could be the last couple of chapters. I want to know how it finishes. The best place to do that is going to be in Scrivener and I could do that in the Cork board by creating a card and make a little outline of what I expect to happen in that final chapter. The next thing to do will be to create cards for the basic three act structure and to start adding chapters to cover the various plot points. The general idea will be to make things as bad as they can be during the first act and then make things even worse for the second act. My notes in the synopsis can cover how I expect the mindset of the protagonists to change after what I have put him through. I can have notes about how I expect the seemingly unsolvable problems to get sorted out in order to bring the novel to a conclusion in the final chapters.

Scrivener Draft

During this process I would highly recommend using the Good And Geeky Writers Workflow and to make use of mind mapping applications such as iThoughts on the iPad and iThoughtsX on the Mac. This is a great way to gather ideas together and to let the brain working away that it works best. Use all of the ideas from your mind map to populate the synopsis for each of the chapters in your book.

The next stage of the process

The key to creativity is a combination of using organisation and planning and allowing for flexibility and just going with the flow. So followed by some organising we allowed ourselves to have some free writing freedom. Then what happens, is that you get all excited about one of the ideas you have written down as a synopsis for a part of your story. What else can you do but to jump right in there and turn those fantastic ideas into words and stories. I think it is this combination of being organised and going with the flow that is the perfect storm of creativity.

The Birds Eye view is art – The nitty-gritty is a to-do list

Smoking Zombies Chapter

When you look at a book as a whole can’t help but think that is the epitome of art. When it comes down to it arts and creativity is nothing more than a series of decisions. The ability to make those decisions is an art whether it is good art depends upon the quality of the decisions. I believe it is true to say that making a decision to love the way a happy accident turned out and to develop it, is just another one of those creative decisions we make along the way. Writer said to make recently that he thought having software designed specifically for writers was a creativity killer. This same writer is using Microsoft Word to do his writing. I’d be the opinion that using software more suited to creating business documents and less suitable for creative work would be more of a creativity killer. I love the way that I can use Scrivener in a number of different ways and all of the options are available because that’s the way writers work.


A view of your world – The writers world

There will be times when you’re working on your project and you want to see all of it as a whole. You can do this with Scrivener. So instead of looking at just one of the sections of text or all of what you have in on chapter, you can see the whole thing. Maybe you want to see section of text that are not next to each other in the binder, that works too. That would be cool if you have made a collection of all the parts that have mention of one of your characters. You can go through it to make sure the character is properly represented in each part. You can make sure the character has the right description in all scenes. Save the search in case you want to get back to it later. You could decide you want to make the character look string and more vital in the story. In the collection you’ve saved you can read through it all and make the necessary changes. Collections in Scrivener is a handy tool to keep track of some things in your writing.

Synchronise with apps on mobile devices

It is not something I do often but you can sync up between Scrivener and a few different mobile applications. I prefer to leave what I have in Scrivener alone and feed more text into it from where ever I have created it, such as in Simplenote or Index Card. Daedalus is an interesting text editor and also works with Scrivener. You can Synchronise with a folder with Scrivener and if that is a folder one of your mobile apps works with you can move between Mac and iOS with relative ease. Synchronisation is not an easy thing though and you alway have to be careful that you don’t overwrite something. This could happen if you leave something open and unsaved/synchronised on either side and start working on the project on the other side. The system won’t know which one should be the one to keep.

Index card

To be honest I am not keen on the sync out of Scrivener text. I much prefer to have text being funnelled into it from Byword or Drafts on iOS. I have tried out these sync options and of them I prefer syncing to Index Card app.

Posted in Mac Software.

Hiding away in Scrivener

That is just about all I have time for at the moment. Hiding in Scrivener writing as much as I can writing the books I am publishing on Amazon. The two books I have put on there already have been downloaded quite a few times already and I have the third book halfway towards being finished and ready to publish too. As you might expect, the books are heavily Mac and iOS biased because that’s where I do my stuff. I work with DragonDictate writing the words until the evening time when my wife is asleep in the room next door and I revert to the keyboard again. I don’t want to keep her awake with me talking to my computer. Sometimes I wish I had a Macbook Air that I could take upstairs and use in a room where I could continue talking. I might just do that next year.

Diving into the nuts and bolts of PGP encryption

I like to use encryption to get privacy with my emails. very important in these days we are aware of what the governments are poking their noses into. I’ve got nothing in particular I need to hide, but I do like to keep my finances and my medical details to myself. I also like to make sure that I don’t leave other data lying around that the bad guys could use to steal my identity. There is a financial lull around the world and that drives people to do bad things if they need the money. I don’t have a lot of money but all the more reason to protect it by using a good password manager and also not giving any information away in the emails. So this is the basis for Good and Geeky Book

Affinity PhotoAffinity Photo

I tried out this app this week and I’m impressed. Not everything is working in the beta version but still works great. I can’t wait for the final version to be available because it is a seriously class act. Using it alongside the Affinity Designer application will be an explosion of creativity for me. This will be an excellent alternative to Pixelmator to use on the Mac. These guys at Affinity are totally committed to giving us top quality design software. I did take some time off from the writing to use this and I wish I could spend more time with it.

Posted in Mac20Q.
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